Long John Silver was a scoundrel, but he had one thing right: there’s nothing like a good old treasure hunt.
If your son hasn't tried geocaching, summer is a great time to start. It’s easy, inexpensive, requires minimal equipment, and gets boys moving and thinking. If your family is new to geocaching, here’s what you needs to know:
In simple terms, geocaching is using a GPS device to find designated hidden caches. With millions of caches worldwide, chances are you have a geocache in your area, and probably even in your neighborhood. And chances are you’ve walked by it a million times without even knowing it.
Geocaching sprang to life in early May of 2000. The day after selective availability of GPS was removed, a man named David Ulmer decided to hide a container in the woods near Portland, Oregon and post the coordinates on a GPS users’ group. He filled the bucket with various books and videos, a pencil and a log book. He made one rule: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”
The idea took off, spawning groups and events all related to GPS treasure hunting. With the ubiquity of smartphones and geocaching-specific apps, the sport of geocaching has never more accessible.
Geocaching.com, the original home of geocaching, provides the largest access to caches worldwide. The intro app, which can be downloaded on a smartphone, is free. The upgraded app costs about ten bucks. You have to register a username, which will be used to log your finds. Other sites include Navicache.com and Todayscacher.com.
Once you have the app and are familiar with the rules, it’s time to hunt. Enter your zip code and look to see what caches might be hidden in your area. We found a half dozen geocache sites just within walking or biking distance of our home.
The search can be trickier than you think, since every GPS has a margin of error. The map will lead you to the general area, but you will have to do a good deal of hunting around. Geocaches can be almost everywhere: up trees, underwater, or, like the one pictured above, stuck with magnets under bridges or metal grates. And they can vary in size, from shoebox size down to smaller than a film canister. They are usually swathed in camouflage tape or spray painted to blend into the surrounding environment.
The app provides information about the size of the cache, and rates the sites according to terrain and difficulty. (I recommend starting with Easy.) The app also includes comments and clues from previous geocachers. Many of the geocaches have been around a long time. We discovered a geocache that had been placed seven years to the day from when we found it.
Once you’ve found a geocache, it’s time to discover what’s inside. Every geocache contains a logbook where you record a username and the date you found the cache. You can also update your find on the app and leave your own comments (without spoiling the fun for other geocachers.)
Besides a logbook and pencil, most geocaches contain inexpensive trinkets. We’ve found playing cards, plastic bugs, finger puppets, and even expired hotel key cards.The greatest find is a Trackable, essentially a geocaching gamepiece that can be logged and tracked as it moves from one cache to the next.
The rule with the geocaches is still the same: take one, leave one. If you plan to take something from the cache, plan on bringing along a few trinkets. We’ve left stamps, miniature crayons, and matchbox cars.
A few things to note: Read all the rules at Geocaching.com before you venture out. Also, pay attention to the specific instructions for each geocache site to ensure you’re not tromping on private land or disturbing a delicate environment. And of course, use common sense to avoid injury.
While there are plenty of urban caches (New York City is filled with them), geocaching is great because it gets kids moving, often out in nature or in historic places. In addition, geocaching can be physically demanding and requires a degree of skill and problem solving—all good things for growing boys. The hobby is entirely portable—you can geocache on family vacations (there's a geocache in Antarctica!) or on outings around town. Our local Target has a geocache right in the parking lot. It can be done as a family or with a group of friends, and encourages exploration beyond the normal confines of the backyard.
Mostly, it’s just plain fun to be a part of a global treasure hunt. It beats having to fend off any one-legged scallywag pirates with a penchant for mutiny. Although I'm sure that has it's own degree of excitement.